Fun with Drones

BitDrones Create Holograms and Models In Mid-Air


BitDrones are turning the virtual world into reality. By equipping drones with 3D printed gear, they can create images and systems.

The Human Media Lab at Queen’s University, Canada are attempting to turn virtual reality into physical reality. Professor Roel Vertegaal and his students have utilized small drones in 3D printed mesh casing to create 3D models in realtime.

Making shapes with BitDrones (Image: Human Media Labs)
Making shapes with BitDrones (Image: Human Media Labs)

By touching two of the drones, you can send all of the drones in the unit flying in a certain direction. These bots are named BitDrones. All are equipped with reflective markers that allow them to be tracked. Using motion capture imagery, they can track their exact location. This allows users to move drones without having to physically touch them. All of these capabilities set the drones very much apart from technology like Microsoft HoloLens or the Oculus Rift. While virtual reality lets users explore a virtually created world, BitDrones turn the virtual into reality.

Currently, there are three different types of BitDrone: PixelDrones, Shape Drones and DisplayDrones. Pixel drones are able to display small amounts of information via a small screen. ShapeDrones are those bound in casing to create physical shapes. They were even used to physically explore file systems. By swiping drones left or right, the user could locate a folder or file, which would then be shown on the PixelDrone.

Lastly, the DisplayDrone is intended for virtual telepresence settings, like Skype. They track the users movements, making it easier to explore an area remotely.

BitDrones up close (Image: Human Media Labs)
BitDrones up close (Image: Human Media Labs)

While the team’s system can only handle up to twelve drones at this point, the goal is to make the fleet much larger. They also hope to decrease the size from 2.5-5 inches to a half inch. 3D printing the frame and mesh casing will help expedite the growth process, as well. With a large number of BitDrones, one could create seamless, high resolution images and complex structures with ease.

Professor Vertegaal describes the new technology as bringing “flying programmable matter, such as featured in the futuristic Disney movie Big Hero 6, closer to reality…It is a first step towards allowing people to interact with virtual 3D objects as real physical objects.” If he’s right, the public will see plenty more BitDrones in the future. Check out their video below to see the drones in action.